Last week we went to check out the 2017 Alibaba Cloud Conference, China’s largest meeting on cloud computing.
But it’s also way, way more than that. It’s no secret that Alibaba has their feet firmly planted in one thousand different tech worlds via their startup incubators. The conference, which is technically just referred to as the ambiguous “Computing Conference 2017,” touches on everything from big data, to artificial intelligence, to virtual, augmented, and mixed realities, drawing in a guest list of over 60,000.
Like any Alibaba throwdown, the whole thing is bathed in grandeur. Take a stroll past the massive illuminated Alibaba Space Station decor as you discuss applications for machine learning in medicine. Graciously accept a refreshment from a cybernetic hostess before you run off to a panel on the use of mass data in law enforcement. Catch a halftime show of peppy young cheerleaders while you struggle to grapple with the fleeting notion of humanity’s uniqueness, in an era where a robot’s capacity to feel might soon exceed your own. There’s even a literal music festival going on in tandem with all this, for what seems like no reason at all (Jack Ma performed, in case you were wondering).
It’s sensory overload to the max, but we’ve distilled the whole shindig into a pleasant one-and-a-half minute video experience. Thank us later. Quickly, we will mention a few cool standouts from the weekend:
Alibaba DAMO Academy
Liu liu liu liu liu (Reuters)
Jack Ma took to the stage, as he often does, to elaborate on Alibaba’s newest larger-than-life operation: the DAMO Academy. This is Alibaba’s research institute, and Ma explained that they’ll be investing RMB 100 billion (15 billion US dollars) over the next several years, assembling a world-class group of thinkers and researchers to tackle the rapidly-expanding frontier of technology.
“The 21st century needs a 21st century approach to problem solving,” he said.
And we can dig it, because shit’s getting a little crazy right now out here on planet Earth.
Ma said that he finally caved to the idea of starting up a research and development program, after years of rebuffing the suggestion. He was always for it in principle, but Alibaba wasn’t financially equipped to take on the responsibility at the time. Now, he says, things are different.
“Alibaba, now, at 18 years old, we have a lot of resources… who gave us so many resources? Who empowered us? The public empowered us, and we must do something to live up to their expectations. We can’t just rely on the shortsighted vision of making more money. We have to develop the kind of vision that shoulders responsibility for the world.”
Alibaba is the official cloud services provider for the Olympics
You’ve likely never considered who is or isn’t the official cloud services provider for the Olympics.
But Alibaba has edged in there early, scoring the highest-tier sponsorship deal available with the Olympics, on par with international brands like Coca-Cola and McDonald’s (two things that Olympic athletes aren’t really known for consuming).
The reason we say it’s early is because the deal will last through 2028. That’s a long time in the minute-to-minute world of modern tech — considering that 11 years ago “cloud computing” meant absolutely nothing — and the sponsorship represents a longterm statement by Alibaba.
In addition to paying lots and lots of money for the advertisement factor, Alibaba will also “help the Olympic Games operate more efficiently, effectively and securely, including supporting big data analytics requirements,” according to the Olympic Committee.
The news came out a while ago, but the 2017 conference welcomed distinguished guests from the committee for talks and panels on their cooperation with AliCloud, shedding some more light on the details behind the partnership.
City Brain is integrated into the infrastructure of Alibaba’s home-base city of Hangzhou, and powered by AliCloud.
What is it?
Essentially, it’s a kind of network built into the city that helps it to function more intelligently. The different ways it accomplishes this are too many to go into, but I’ll relay one of the cool applications as explained to me by the City Brain installation staff.
By drawing on mass data of peak traffic times, most congested routes, and directional flow, the city’s traffic lights are able to adapt to an optimal phase rate. The ratio of red to green to yellow is optimized, so the city’s residents don’t have to deal with waiting at long red lights at an empty intersection. The result was a sharp decline in congested roads. The traffic cameras can even sense abnormalities and tune in in time to record accidents, or even crimes.
All in all, the 2017 conference was what we expected: Alibaba’s public reaffirmation of its commitment to building the future, where they go all out to convince us that they’re the ones to do it.
Special thanks to Rilly Chen